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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects:  National Party leadership; Resources Minister; Sports grants; Coronavirus

GARETH PARKER:   The Attorney-General is Christian Porter. He is on the line from Canberra this morning. Christian, hello.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah, good morning Gareth. Morning to your listeners.

GARETH PARKER: An unhelpful start to the parliamentary year, thanks to your Nationals colleagues.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I mean, this is internal democratic processes in parties, and they can be easily enlivened by one or a small group of members. But…

GARETH PARKER: ..Is that what you think this is?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I do think it is, I think that's been validated in the result.

GARETH PARKER: Well, some are saying it might be half the party room minus one.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, some are saying that but I think that appears to me to be an exaggeration, and others are putting a different view as to what the numbers were. No one will ever know, to be honest. But I think it was a strong outcome for the Deputy Prime Minister. I think he's doing a good job.

I mean, at the last election, right, the Nationals returned all of their seats with increased majorities. I think that the Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the Nationals has done a very, very good job. David Littleproud's a great minister with a fantastic cut-through. They're a good team. It's exactly the right result, and I'm pleased to see it happen.

GARETH PARKER: So, is Barnaby just off his chops?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, everyone person in the party room can call a spill. Everyone's entitled to run for a position. That's the nature of party rooms, Labor, Liberal, and National. You know, people will question the wisdom or otherwise of tilts like this, but in the end the result is precisely the right one. And, you know, it's done and dusted inside a third of a day. And you know, dogs bark, the caravan moves on …..

GARETH PARKER: Is it though? Is it done and dusted, or is this phase one and phase two comes down the track?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, my view is it's done and dusted. I'm not a Nationals, so I'm not the right person to be asking. But you know, if you want my observation on it, it was raised. I mean, Barnaby is Barnaby. It was raised, he's got the ability and the right to do that in his National Party party room. They have a ballot, it's conclusive, and as I say, it literally just moves, and so now we're just in the thick of all of the usual administration business and responding of government.

GARETH PARKER: Barnaby is Barnaby; has he damaged the government?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: No, I don't think so. I mean, these things happen. They are an inevitable and invariable part of the sort of cycle of politics and particularly modern politics. But you get measured on your performance, how you respond, and you know, I think that the Deputy Prime Minister is a wonderful Member of Parliament. I think he's a great leader of the Nationals. The Coalition's very strong. This is done and dusted and dealt with in a third of a day, and now you're just back at it.

GARETH PARKER:   So on that though, it's not just about Barnaby throwing rocks, because you've got a Minister with a really important portfolio - especially in this state - one who was well-regarded by the industry that he oversees, and that is Matt Canavan, Minister for Resources, Minister for Northern Australia; the most important export-earning industry for our nation, huge employer of West Australians, and now without a Minister.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Yeah, not for very long. Look, I'd agree with your observation that…

GARETH PARKER: …and for what?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: … Matt Canavan is a seriously talented guy. His knowledge about the resources industry and the extractive industries - mining, oil, and gas - was exceptionally good. Certainly had a great relationship with that industry. He was a good Minister, there's no doubt. He made his decisions in this process and they were decisions that he made for himself, and I think that he tried to do those - undertake his sort of course through - navigate his course through this process as best he could. It's up to the Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister to nominate who the new minister will be, but there's plenty of talented people who can do the job. But I agree, it's an important job.

My observation would be that having a Resources Minister come from the Nationals has actually a been very positive thing in a sense because there is a tendency I think for regional Australians and Australians particularly like in electorates like mine, out of the urban edge - there's a lot of FIFO workers - to really understand and rely on….

GARETH PARKER: Sorry, Christian. I'm going to have to stop you there. There's something wrong with - I think your phone line; I don't know what it is. Sounds like a cable's loose on the handset, but perhaps we'll just give that another go.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Just hold on two secs mate if you're recording as well we’ve just got bells - okay, so you're right. Is that any better?

GARETH PARKER: Is that your - yeah, we're fine. Are they your bells or the senate's bells?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: No, they're my bells, but it's a quorum so…

GARETH PARKER: Alright, we are live. We are live.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Okay. Is the phone line better?

GARETH PARKER: It's much better.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Good, okay. Okay. The vicissitudes of live radio. But…

GARETH PARKER: That's okay.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: … having a Resources minister from the Nationals is actually, I think, something of a positive development over recent years. But the Nationals have such a great empathy. And- you know, there is a tendency, I think, in inner-city electorates to not get how important mining and resources are to the Australian economy, and to fly-in fly-out workers. People in my electorate get it, people in WA get it, people in the regions get it. But Nationals have provided good representation in this area, I think.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. Should the Auditor-General resign?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: No. I mean why would you suggest that? I mean, I don't think-

GARETH PARKER: Well, because he and the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have reached diametrically opposite conclusions about the sports rorts affair.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, there's certainly - I mean, there's been some observations that the head of the Department of Prime and Cabinet's put about some of the sufficiency of the evidence behind some of the conclusions of the Auditor-General. That's a matter for those two public servants to thrash out amongst themselves but- look, I mean, ultimately-

GARETH PARKER: They can't both be right.


GARETH PARKER: One concludes it was pork barrelling; the other says no, it wasn't.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well I don't…I mean we've had this discussion before. I don't think there's anything in the Auditor-General's report that says that he does conclude that it was favouring of one type of electorate, Liberal or Labor, over the others. I mean, he makes some conclusions about the sufficiency of the process. I think they're conclusions that are well made. He made some recommendations about the guidelines for Commonwealth grants, applying to corporate entities like Sports Australia. I think they're fair-minded recommendations. They're the sort of things that will tighten up this process into the future. But yeah, there is a bit of an argument between the head of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Auditor-General about the sufficiency of some of the evidence. And I haven't sort of, I must say, gone over the head of Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet's views in great detail this morning but I understand there's a divergence between the two. But the recommendations from the Auditor-General's report are sound. They'll be followed by Government. They can improve the process.

And again, I would say here that the distinction here is that nothing was approved that was ineligible. Now, Ministers have an underlying authority and responsibility to exercise judgement based on criteria and reasons that they think fit. They have to justify that. But that is an authority that exists. I've never bought into this notion that ministers don't have an overarching authority in those matters.

GARETH PARKER: You've been involved in the meetings of the National Security Subcommittee of Cabinet as it pertains to the coronavirus decision making. How long do you think that these travel bans are going to last? It doesn't sound to me as though it's going to be short-term.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I can't give you an answer to that question. There's been a lot of meetings of that Cabinet subcommittee. The situation is dynamic. We have excellent advice from a variety of sources coming in. We rely obviously on information that we get internationally. But I think your observations are right that this situation will change, and it obviously, in terms of the number infected overseas, particularly in China, is getting significantly worse, not better. But we're not doing anything that's not based on rational, best practice medical advice and the best possible information about numbers that we can get and that's internationally available.

So, you're right. It's a dynamic and very serious set of concerns but we are meeting regularly with the people who can provide the best information and advice, and we base our decisions on the best information and advice.

GARETH PARKER: My sense is that most Australians are pretty happy with the travel bans but the World Health Organisation have taken a different view. They say that travel bans are not particularly helpful and that they, in fact, people will get to where they want to go they'll just do it through different routes and you can't keep track of them and countries shouldn't do what we have done and what the United States have done. Why did the Government, Australian Government reach a different conclusion to that recommendation by the WHO?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Because we're not governed by the United Nations, like I mean…

GARETH PARKER: I understand that…

CHRISTIAN PORTER: …they are a set of bureaucrats - they are not making decisions for Australia based on Australian conditions with the knowledge and information that we have. There is a level of precautionary decision making that we engage in that the World Health Organisation may not. I mean we were treating this with a level of seriousness well before it's categorisation by the World Health Organisation. So look, we listen to what they say. They are a source of information but far from being determinative about how we make decisions about Australians and you know if the observation is that we are sometimes exercising an extra layer of caution then I think that's a fair observation. But of course we're trying to do that in a way that protects the health and safety of the Australian population that minimises economic harm and damage to our communities and that's a fine balance. But ultimately we will act in a precautionary way with a first order priority of the health and safety of the Australian community.

GARETH PARKER: And as I say, I think my observation is that most Australians agree with the travel bans. I think that they agree with what the Government's done here. But the difference with the WHO is what it is, I mean it's very obvious. And also I wonder whether there will be any lasting damage do you think between our relationship with China? Obviously the Ambassador yesterday made some comments disappointed with Australia's decision.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yes and we've heard those obviously, but we're making our decisions stage by stage, based on advice - this is a Division I’ll have to go - and we're doing it in a precautionary way. But thanks mate.

GARETH PARKER: I understand, thanks for your time. The bells ring, the minister goes, he's got to get back in the chamber.